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Youth Culture Window

The 2012 VMAs
No Apologies Needed?
An article from Jonathan McKee and David R. Smith at

Most parents teach their kids to say they’re sorry when they do something wrong, whether accidental or purposeful. It’s a good habit for kids to form, especially as they make their way into adulthood.

But the message from MTV’s 2012 Video Music Awards is clear: don’t apologize, ever.

Mistakes Without Apologies
When comedian Kevin Hart took the stage as host of the show that, in 2011, drew one of cable’s largest audiences ever – he talked about the “mistakes” of others. He claimed that “MTV is the place for mistakes” but that he was also OK with that fact.

He brought up the highly public riff between Chris Brown and Drake and also mentioned hip hop star Frank Ocean’s “coming out” announcement. Like other hosts from the past few years, Hart couldn’t help mentioning Snooki; the recent birth of her son Lorenzo (out of wedlock) provided plenty of fodder for the hyper comedian.

But he capped off his sermon by talking about the scandalous affair between Twilight’s Kristen Stewart and the married director of Snow White and the Huntsmen, Rupert Sanders.
    “If she did, so what? It’s over! Move on! Look on the bright side…they now a part of the seven dwarves. You got Sleepy, Grumpy, Adultery, Cheaty. They all part of it! They in one big bubble. The point that I’m making is this: if you made a mistake, so what!”
It seems like everybody that followed him took Hart’s advice to “heart.”

The question is, are young people beginning to simmer in this kind of thinking and take this advice to heart?

Hart’s monologue is timely. In my (Jonathan) parent workshop this weekend, I’m going to spend quite a bit of time talking about the “so what” attitude so prevalent in teenagers today, an attitude that might just be one of the catalysts to risky behaviors.

Are concerned parents just overreacting, or is MTV right? Was all the raunchy, racy content packed into the VMAs really “no big deal”?

You be the judge.

Setting the Bar Low
After calling Frank Ocean’s homosexual identity “brave” and dismissing the marital infidelity of two adults, Hart introduced the show’s first award, and the night regressed from there. But what are we to expect from a TV program with such a colorful past?

Remember 2010’s “dangling penis”? 2009’s “prayer to Satan”? How about 2008’s “slam on celibacy”?

Yet, I have to say, that in comparison to former years, 2012’s show didn’t really drop our jaw to the ground. Don’t get me wrong, MTV hasn’t gone soft; there were still plenty of elements to make parents and youth workers groan. For instance…

  1. Way too many expletives. It’s hard to highlight the presence of such mindless vulgarity without sounding like a prude, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take. Let’s be honest for a moment; our world has turned swear words into household vocabulary, so their presence rarely turns heads. But when the frequency of vulgarity becomes so great that it actually draws attention to itself, you know it’s bad.

    Kevin Hart’s standup routines were dripping with expletives (especially his opening monologue). Several of the live performances, for instance, Green Day, Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz, and P!nk, were muted so often due to inappropriate language that there was as much silence as there was sound during their mini-concerts. But MTV’s best efforts on the bleep button were undone by shots of the crowd; everybody in the house was singing along, giving voice to the words producers knew they needed to cut.

    Of course, the show’s presenters and award recipients met their quota of filth behind the mic, as well. For example, Drake was making a somewhat touching speech about being yourself when he ended it on a very low note. And even the commercials offered up their fair share of vulgarity. (For instance, MTV used snippets from the full trailer for their new show “Underemployed” throughout the awards show.)

  2. Plenty of sexual references. MTV isn’t going to let one of their biggest nights of the year go by without infusing sensuality into the mix. Again, it was the live performances that led the way. Rihanna’s opening lyrics were “I want you to be my sex slave” (which was probably better than the actual opening lyrics to that song, “suck my cockiness.”) During his performance with 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne rapped, “Good weed, bad *itch, got these hoes on my d**k like Brad Pitt.” Of course, the “Free P*ssy Riot” T-shirt worn by Green Day’s guitarist also captured attention.

    One of the more poignant moments was when Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson took the stage with The Wanted (a boy band from the UK) to introduce Best Female Video wearing an airbrushed shirt that featured a…ummm…“hairy” woman in a bikini. If the visuals weren’t enough, she made crude references to one of the guys beside her being the “chip in my dip.” In the moments following, she then made a reference to masturbation and orgies.

    All that was too much for Kevin Hart to ignore; later in the show, he made a middle school reference to her “pubes.” Further, one of his commercial break comedy clips featured him in a conversation with Ke$ha who lifted her shirt to reveal pixilated breasts.

I guess 10 years ago this all would have been shocking. Sadly, in today’s oversexualized world, and especially on this “no holds barred” channel, this content often comes across as “no big deal.” Perhaps this is a side effect of oversaturation of raunchy media. I (Jonathan) watched two “edited” TV shows on my United flight today. Both comedies had blatant penis jokes, one where a girl prayed to God that her date would have a giant penis, the other where a man injured his penis during violent sex with a Russian model.

No big deal?

Rays of Hope
MTV’s VMAs supposedly revolve around rewarding musicians for the success of their product; the artists compete in many different categories, which include Best Male (and Female) Videos, Best Rock Video, Best Video with a Message, and the highly-sought-after Video of the Year Award, amongst others. MTV’s website offers a full list of this year’s winners, but sadly enough for those victors… nobody cares. The VMAs have never been about the winners; they’ve always been about how much wild and crazy can be crammed into two hours of live television, as evidenced by some of this year’s stunts. Too bad for MTV that only half of last year's numbers were watching.

This year’s show offered a couple rays of hope. In the midst of everything MTV offered – celebrity appearances, live performances from varied musical genres, and exclusive sneak peek movie premieres – MTV managed to get a couple things right.

First, they seized the opportunity to make an impact on the politically-minded. Throughout the show, and in several ways, viewers were encouraged to register and vote. Given that the VMAs aired opposite the DNC’s biggest night – the one where President Obama accepted his party’s nomination for a second White House bid – it was probably the least they could do, along with moving the show up one hour so it wouldn’t conflict with the President’s speech.

Second, the clean music of boy band sensation One Direction was highlighted with three wins (Best New Artist, Best Pop Video, and Most Share-Worthy Video Awards) and a live performance. Each time they accepted an award, they did so humbly and graciously, and their performances matched their music: clean.

As raunchy as the charts can be, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Today, as we write this, the music charts have some pretty clean options. Taylor Swift owns the No. 1 single on iTunes right now with her song, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Christian artist Adam Young of Owl City shares a spot in the Top 10 of the same chart with Carly Rae Jepsen in their song Good Time. And for the first time since 1997, a Christian album is No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, Toby Mac’s brand new Eye On It.

If only more of these jewels existed in the rough.

MTV typically provides little saving grace on their network. Parents and youth workers simply cannot expect MTV to offer the truth, so they must be committed to providing it. Here are a couple ideas that will help your teenagers avoid the “mistakes” that MTV flaunts.

  1. Continue to teach biblical principles. Make sure your teenagers know what sin is and how to avoid it. But also remind them that when they do stumble into it that the only right way to deal with sin is to acknowledge it and ask forgiveness of it. Offering no apologies to God (or others) is as foolish as it is costly. Here is a great resourcethat’s musically-slanted – to help you teach on this topic.

  2. Help them with discernment. One of Scripture’s best passages on discernment is Ephesians 5:1-12. Here, Paul writes, “Be imitators of God; among you there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality; let no one deceive you with empty words; find out what pleases the Lord; have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.” Much of the content on MTV’s awards show fell way below these ancient but righteous standards. If teens learn to hold up life’s decisions against this godly measurement, they will make fewer and fewer mistakes.

  3. Use Music as a Discussion Springboard. Rather than overreacting about inappropriate music, use the opportunity to provoke conversation. Turn your “overreaction” into “interaction.” Take songs like Rihanna’s We Found Love, last night’s VMA video of the year, and use it to talk with teenage girls about “settling” in relationships (more on that here).

Speaking of avoiding mistakes, it’s probably best to just avoid MTV altogether. We’re not trying to come across prude. We both like TV and movies. But MTV’s content continually pushes the limits and irks parenting and family-minded groups across the country. Their target audience is 12-34 year-olds. Teenagers make up a heaping portion of their loyal fans… yet MTV doesn’t hesitate to continue pimping smut. It’s best to avoid the network all together. What few tidbits of good that escape their vortex of worthlessness can also be found in other, less-toxic, places. If we cut off the amount of filth that infiltrates the lives of our kids, it’ll be less that we have to apologize for.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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Comments on this post

   Jonathan McKee         9/12/2012 10:51:12 AM

Gary... I think we're on the same page. I agree that we need to not get caught up in the world all in the name of research. That's one reason that we try to provide a lot of this for you... so you don't have to watch it! (that way David and I are the only two doomed to eternity in Hell for watching this junk on MTV) :)

   Gary         9/11/2012 7:14:08 PM

Jonathan... I do understand where you are coming from, and I agree to a point. Like I said originally, we can't, and shouldn't bury our heads in the sand. In the verses you mentioned it is true that Paul was aware and familiar with what was going on, and used that to his advantage in speaking with the people. But, there is no mention that Paul checked it out again next week or next year to see if anything had changed or went to any of the pagan meetings each week to keep up on it. He saw it, it was wrong, he told them about it. I know and understand we as youth leaders do have to keep up with what is going on, and it does change frequently, but I guess what I am saying is we need to be careful ourselves not to get caught up in the world, all in the name of "research". I think once you have seen MTV or the average Hollywood movie, or heard the average pop song once, that might be enough to be able to speak against it and tell others about the "known God"... maybe not, I could be wrong.

   Jonathan McKee         9/11/2012 4:24:18 PM

Gary... thanks for the kinds words before the "but". :) As for your question, "why do we need to watch MTV?" ANSWER: you don't. We just recommend that parents and youth workers are familiar (not saturated, but aware) of what's going on in youth culture so they can not only understand the pressures that teenagers are experiencing, but so they can develop ways to springboard discussion from today's cultural influences. Read Acts 17:16 through the end the chapter and ask yourself, "Why did Paul look at the idols of the day?" "Why did he listen to the pagan poets?" "How did he use that time becoming familiar with the culture to springboard conversation?" I hope that helps. Thanks Gary!

   Gary         9/11/2012 9:22:53 AM

First let me say that I have been a youth pastor for many years, and I am not a "lock yourself in your room and hope the world goes away" Christian. In order to reach the world for Christ, we MUST be in the world and meet them where they are... sinners are not beating the church door down trying to find out about Christ. Second let me say I am not anti Jonathan or David!! You guys do some very good things and have made a huge difference in many people's lives. I agree with almost everything you guys do... But (you just knew there was a but coming didn't you!!LOL!).... I must say I don't understand why you see the need to watch MTV (or movies with bad language or scenes), in order to tell them they don't need to watch it. We all know it's not going to be good, so what is the point in watching it yourself? I know you will say we need to see what the kids are watching so we can discuss it... do we really?? I know for a fact there are kids in my group who smoke pot... do I need to do it too so we can talk about the bad effects of it?? NO!! Of course not!! To me, if I got up in front of my group and starting talking about how bad MTV is, and I know this because I watched it... that would give them the green light to watch it too. They would probably think "if Gary can watch it...just to see what it is like...then so can I". It is my humble opinion that if we teach Godly morals, what is right and wrong by God's standard, and then LIVE BY THOSE STANDARDS OURSELVES... that will have the greatest impact on the kids lives. We don't need to watch, or listen to, filth ourselves in order to teach about it. If the kids know what is expected from them by God's standard and His Holy Word, then when they see things that don't meet that standard (and they will all though life), the Holy spirit will convict them... just as it should convict us if we see or listen to what we shouldn't. If watching or listening to things that don't meet God's standard does not bother the kids (or us), then maybe we need to do more lessons on having a true relationship with Jesus. For it is that relationship, and that relationship alone, that will then convict us when we do wrong. Without a close personal relationship with Christ, all the teaching in the world will not make people choose as Philippians 4:8 says ... whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report. We can't look or listen to bad ourselves, then tell the kids not to do it... it won't work (in my humble opinion).

   Joe         9/8/2012 11:26:52 AM

You're right. We are slowly becoming numb. The trick is keeping our eyes on the truth, not buying the lies, and always responding with grace!


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